Gain and Godliness

Godliness is not a means to gain; godliness itself is great gain. How can we have this perspective, and what will our life look like as a result?

Chris Hutchison on January 19, 2020
Gain and Godliness
January 19, 2020

Gain and Godliness

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Passage: 1 Timothy 6:2b-10
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As many of you know, we’re in the midst of a sermon series through the three books in the New Testament known as the “Pastoral Epistles.” These are each letters written by the Apostle Paul to Timothy and Titus, and they have a lot to teach us about the church and our life together as the people of God at our place in the biggest story ever told.

We started with 1 Timothy in September, and if you’ve been reading ahead, you’ll have noticed that we’re nearing the end of this first letter. After today, we’ll have two more weeks before we move on to 2 Timothy.

Even if you haven’t read ahead, I think you’ll notice as we get in to our passage today that Paul is winding down this letter. These last verses in many ways parallel the first verses of the letter as they sum up the big ideas and drive them home one last time.

The letter opened by saying, “As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine,” (1 Timothy 1:3).

And this final section opens by saying, “Teach and urge these things. If anyone teaches a different doctrine…” (1 Timothy 6:2b-3a). Hopefully you can hear the similarities there. So if September feels like a long way away, these next weeks will make sure that we don’t forget what this letter has been about. And yet, its not just repetition. These last verses will revoice the main themes in this letter in a powerful way that I trust will be helpful to us as we listen in.

The Charge to Teach

So let’s start with that short phrase that’s actually the last part of verse 2. “Teach and urge these things.” These words reinforce Timothy’s main mission at Ephesus, which was to be a teacher of the truth. Not just a suggester of good ideas. He was to teach and urge these things. Just like Paul urged him to remain in Ephesus, so Timothy was to urge the church to believe and obey the truth.

This kind of language shouldn’t surprise us. In chapter 4 verse 11 Timothy was told to “Command and teach these things” (1 Timothy 4:11). Chapter 5 verse 7 said, “Command these things as well” (1 Timothy 5:7).

Here in the Western world, the idea of anybody commanding us to do anything can make our backs stiffen and the hair on our neck stick out. This is one of those places where individualism rears its ugly head. We want to choose what we will or will not do, and we don’t like it when anyone else tells us what to do.

I led a mens group years ago, and one of the guys was urging one of the other guys to understand a certain truth. And the guy on the receiving end said something like, “I think I agree with you, but the fact that you want me to believe this so much makes me not want to believe it.”

Have you ever experienced that, where you don’t like an idea just because it’s not your own, and the more someone urges you, the more you resist?

That is plain old ugly individualism at its worst. And it’s something we need to repent of. As citizens of Christ’s kingdom, with Jesus as our king, we must welcome not only the teaching of God’s truth but also the opportunity to be urged to follow it. We should be thankful for that, not resistant to it.

Because that’s what Timothy, and every other faithful preacher, has been tasked to do. Teach and urge the truth.

Those Who Don’t Listen

But what if people don’t respond to it? What if people refuse to submit to God’s truth? Timothy was supposed to command those guys at Ephesus not to teach any different doctrine (1 Timothy 1:3). What if they didn’t listen? What if they didn’t obey? What if, after all of his work and labour and example-setting and teaching, they still refused to submit to God’s truth?

How was Timothy supposed to process that? Did it mean that he had failed? Did it mean that he had done something wrong or wasn’t doing enough?

These questions point to a real struggle for those in pastoral ministry: when you pour your guts into a sermon or even just a conversation, or several years of sermons and conversations, and some people’s hearts just stay hard to to the truth. They refuse to listen and refuse to change. They stay stuck inside their own heads and God’s word seems to bounce right off of them.

This has led many pastors to quit. They assume its their fault and they bail out.

And so what Paul does in verses 3-5 is help guard Timothy against discouragement by helping him process this reality. He helps Timothy understand that if someone refuses to submit to God’s truth, even after being taught and urged to follow it, it’s not Timothy’s fault. The blame falls squarely on their own shoulders. Their unbelief is a sure sign of the sad state of their own heart.

And then in next week’s passage Paul shifts his perspective somewhat and warns Timothy against ever being like these people himself.

But for today, Paul writes, “If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness” (1 Timothy 6:3), and then he goes on to give six descriptions of these unrepentant false teachers, helping Timothy understand why they are the way that they are.

A Frightening Kind of False

But before we get too far, we need to stop and make sure that we really understand the nature of these false teachers and what their disagreement with Timothy consisted of.

See, if we just opened our Bible to today’s passage, without any context, and were to read about these false teachers who disagreed with Timothy, we might imagine that they were the kind of false teachers we met in 1 John a couple of summers ago. A word we could use for them is heretics. They taught that Jesus isn’t the son of God. The apostles were wrong. Guys who would go on our website and look at our statement of faith and say “nope, that’s all wrong.”

But the reality is more disconcerting than this. These false teachers might actually fit in in a church like ours more readily than we might like to think. They things they were disagreeing with were not matters of high-level theology or first-order doctrines.

Just think about how our passage opens up. “Teach and urge these things. 3 If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness…” (1 Timothy 6:2–3).

What are “these things” that Timothy was supposed to teach, the things these guys were disagreeing with? They weren’t the kinds of things that you find on our statement of faith. “These things” simply refers to the teaching in chapter 5: the instructions for widows and elders and slaves.

This is the “teaching that accords with godliness.” This is where the “sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ” come in. Remember how Paul quoted Jesus in 5:18 when he talked about how a preaching elder was to be paid?

That was the stuff that these guys were disagreeing with. So they weren’t necessarily heretics. They may have had great theology, in the way we often think about it. They probably would have agreed with our statement of faith. But they had different ideas about how the church was supposed to be organized and run. They disagreed about how widows were to be cared for. They didn’t see how the words of Jesus applied to the elders being paid. They took issue with Timothy’s teaching on how slaves were to act.

And that’s why I find this passage disconcerting and yet so important. Because it tells us that heresy and liberalism aren’t the only things we need to be concerned about. We need to be concerned about the impulse that might even be present within our own hearts to be like these men, insisting that the church should be run the way we think it should be run, and refusing to submit all of our opinions to the word of God.

I remember hearing a pastor once say that in all of his years in ministry, the people that caused him the most problems were not heretics. They were not liberals or people who denied the gospel or denied the Bible. The kind of people who caused him the most problem were theologically conservative men who believed in the authority of Scripture and could sign off on all the good doctrinal statements, but who had strong opinions about how the church was supposed to be run, and refused to submit those opinions to the word of God.

They acted like they owned the church, and made life miserable for their pastor anytime he tried to do something that was not in line with their preferences.

And this was one of the big eye-openers for me from my first big study of 1 Timothy several years ago. Theological accuracy—being able to sign your name to a good statement of faith—is not the only thing that matters.  Your attitude matters. How tightly you hold on to your opinions matters. How you respond when people disagree with you matters. Whether you can be reasoned with, and are willing to submit your every preference to the word of God, really matters.

Six Descriptions of Sinful Stubbornness

And all of that grows in clarity as Paul goes on in verses 4 and 5 to give us six descriptions of these false teachers and what kept them locked up in the dungeon of their own unbiblical opinions.

First, verse 4 says, they were puffed up with conceit—they thought way too highly of themselves. And as a result, secondly, they understood nothing. And I hope that you see that these first two descriptions are connected. True wisdom, true understanding, comes as we listen to and learn from others. If you think that you are God’s gift to planet earth, if you’re puffed up with conceit, then you’ll go through life thinking you know everything but understanding nothing.

Thirdly, these people had an unhealthy craving for controversy and quarrels about words. Part of the reason they disagreed with Timothy is that they disagreed with everybody because they just loved to disagree. You’ve met people like this, I’m sure. You say one word wrong and they’ll just pounce on it.

We should never be afraid of controversy, when it’s needed. But a craving for controversy is dangerously unhealthy.

The internet has made it possible for people like this to make a whole career out of it. Some of you might be familiar with “discernment bloggers” or guys like what, who do nothing but pick apart all the wrong things that everybody else is doing. If that’s not a craving for controversy, I don’t know what is.

Verse 4 goes on to tell us why this craving is so dangerous. The reason is that these unnecessary controversies and quarrels about words never do anything good. They only ever produce envy: people being jealous of one another. They produce dissension: tension between people. They produce slander: people saying what they should not. They produce evil suspicions: always thinking the worst about others. And they produce constant friction, as verse 5 tells us.

Verse 5 goes on to give us three final descriptions of these false teachers, the kind of people who start these quarrels about words and experience these awful results. They are depraved in mind. Their thinking, once again, has been clouded. They are deprived of the truth. They’ve robbed themselves of the truth because they refuse to listen to it. And finally, they imagine that godliness is a means for gain.

Not The Prosperity Gospel, Yet

“Aha!” You might be saying. “This suddenly makes sense. This is talking about those prosperity teachers. I’ve seen them on TV. They’re always telling me to send them money so that God will give me money. So that’s what Timothy was dealing with.”

But we shouldn’t be too hasty here. What Paul says here certainly applies to them, and verse 8 does talk about those who “desire to be rich.” But it’s important that we know that this word for “gain” here in verse 5 is not a word that necessarily implies being wealthy. It’s not talking about riches, per se.

Instead, this is a word that was used at that time to simply refer to the normal things that we would need to live. Just earning a living. Just doing well on a human level. Just getting by.

And these false teachers believed that living the way God wants us to live was a way to do well in this life. Once again, this sounds a little closer to home doesn’t it?

Here’s what one commentator wrote about this verse: “It is not a fixation with obscene wealth that Paul rejects; his objection here is more subtle. Wherever people think that the gospel message is primarily about better quality of life, personal well being, or gain as measured in a materialist human consumer society, they run afoul of Paul’s strictures here.”1Robert W. Yarbrough, The Letters to Timothy and Titus, ed. D. A. Carson, Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; London: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company; Apollos, 2018), 312.

And once again this brings this truth uncomfortably close to home. Because many times in my life, as I’ve sat in good evangelical churches, not that different from ours, and heard the gospel presented in a way that basically says, “Come to Jesus so that he can improve your quality of life.” How many Christian books and Christian movies perpetrate that same idea? That godliness is ultimately a means of gain. That Jesus is just a ticket to enjoying our best life now.

And that’s the kind of thing that Paul is pointing to here in verse 5. This is why these false teachers were hanging around in the first place. They didn’t love the truth; they loved gain. And they imagined godliness was just a way to get it.

True Gain

And what Paul does in verses 6 and following is tackle this last idea head-on. He wants to really make sure that Timothy understands just how wrong this is. So of all of these six descriptions of the false teachers, he zooms in on this one and spends the next five verses unpacking it.

And the way he starts in verses 6 and 7 is actually quite positive. He tells Timothy what the truth really is: “But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world” (1 Timothy 6:6–7).

Godliness is not a means to gain. Godliness is gain.

And the reason godliness is gain was spelled out for us back in chapter 4 verse 8: “Godliness of of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:8). Godliness is the one thing in our life today that is going to benefit you after you’re dead. That’s the problem with earthly gain. It’s just like Monopoly money. It’s not worth anything when the game is over. When your body dies, which it will, none of your toys and trinkets and money will mean a thing.

But godliness will have benefit when our real life begins in eternity. Godliness is what will make Jesus look at us and say “Well done, good and faithful servant.” And that’s Paul’s point here in chapter 6. Godliness is great gain, because it’s the one thing we get to take with us when we leave this world and enter into the life to come.

And so in the present life, if you are godly, you will have this perspective, because that’s a part of what godliness is: thinking about eternity. And if you have that perspective, then you will be content. You’ll be be content with nothing more than food and clothing, like verse 8 says.

Food and clothing are what we need to stay alive. Food and clothing are what Jesus promised to provide for us in Matthew 6 (Matthew 6:25-34). And a godly person is going to be content with that.

It’s like a bunch of kids playing with Monopoly money, and one of them is sitting there with a real $100 bill in his pocket. That’s what godliness is like. And that kid won’t be too sad if he looses the game. Because he knows that he already has the one thing that’s going to matter when the game is over.

So godliness is gain. It means eternal gain, and contentment, here and now, something that no money can ever buy.

The Pangs of the Ungodly

On the other hand, verse 9 tells us about those who are not godly and not content and want to pursue riches here in this present life. These people Paul talks about in verse 9 and 10 could be the false teachers he’s been talking about. Or it could be anybody with these similar desires.

These verses tell us that those who desire to be rich in this present life fall into temptation, into a snare, and into many senseless and harmful desires.

Isn’t that interesting? Those who desire to be rich fall into many senseless and harmful desires. One bad desire leads to another. And those harmful desires make them fall even further. They plunge them into ruin and destruction.

Just a side note—I don’t know if you’ve noticed how many “desire” words are in our passage today. Verse 4 talked about a “craving for controversy.” This verse talks about a “desire to be rich” and the many “harmful desires” they plunge into. Verse 10 will refer to the love of money as a “craving.”

This is where sin starts: where nobody sees. This is why God cares about our hearts, not just our behaviour. Just like Eve in the garden it’s our cravings and our desires that lead us into ruin and destruction.

Sometimes that ruin and destruction strikes here and now. I read an article this week called, “Here’s How Winning the Lottery Makes You Miserable.” Here are some quotes from that article from the mouths of lottery winners: “You know, my wife had said she wished that she had torn the ticket up. Well, I wish that we had torn the ticket up, too… I don’t like the hard heart I’ve got…I don’t like what I’ve become… I’d have been better off broke.”2

There are others who are able to hold it together and appear quite successful in this world. But they are seldom content. And how much ruin and destruction awaits them in the life to come?

And this is what Paul points to in verse 10. “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1 Timothy 6:10).

The love of money is the root of all kinds of evils because you can’t love money and God at the same time (Matthew 6:24). And not loving God is the definition of evil and the fountainhead of all other evils.

And so the love of money is the root of all kinds of evils. Some of those evils are obvious, like Judas betraying Jesus for his 30 pieces. Some of those evils are more refined and respectable.

But hear this warning from this passage today: the love of money will drive one off the path of faithfulness to Jesus and into the ditches of evil. Whether in this life, or the life to come, they will find themselves impaled by many sudden pains which they inflicted upon themselves.

Conclusion & Application

And so we come to the end of verse 10, and I so want to keep going, because verse 11 really drives all of this home for Timothy’s sake. “But as for you, O man of God, flee these things” (1 Timothy 6:11). But that passage is going to have to wait until next week, when you’ll get to hear Tim preaching it.

As we look back at our passage today, we’ve covered quite a bit of distance, haven’t we? We started with Timothy needing to teach and urge the truth. And we’ve ended up here—people wandering away from the faith as they chase money and piercing themselves through with many pangs.

But that’s the whole point. Paul wants Timothy to see the stakes. To understand where all of this is headed. To see the consequences of ideas. To understand that bad teaching has bad results, and to see just how important it is for him to do his job. To not beat himself up when these people don’t listen, but to see just how deep the roots of their rebellion go.

And next week you’ll hear Paul’s concern that Timothy not ever become like this himself.

But without going that far, just looking at our passage today, I hope you’ve heard the summons that we not ever be like these people Paul has described here. That we would submit our opinions to God’s word, lay down our sinful cravings at the foot of the cross, and really embrace the true gain that’s found in godliness.

And I want us to go back to this idea as we end: the statement in verse 6 that godliness with contentment is great gain.

I want to make sure that we don’t misunderstand this idea. Because maybe we could think that godliness is not about gain in this life, but it is about gain in the life to come, which means that in heaven I’ll finally get to enjoy the big mansion and butler service and all of the material things that I haven’t been able to get in this life.

But I hope you know that when the Scriptures talk about godliness being gain in the life to come, it’s not about spending eternity in a 5-star resort.

It’s talking about gaining God. Isn’t that what Psalm 73 tells us? “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you” (Psalm 73:25). That’s the heart of a godly person crying out.

The joy in eternity will be Christ Himself. And it will be getting to serve and work and create and cultivate and worship in full and perfect communion with our Creator, just like we were made for in the beginning.

The reward of godliness is God himself. And that shouldn’t surprise us, because is not the root of all true godliness found in treasuring God more than anything else?

If that doesn’t describe you this morning, if you find that you have been treasuring other things and imaging that godliness is just a means for gain, I’d invite you to repent. Jesus died on the cross to forgive you for all the times you’ve loved other things more than Him.

And He also died to give us the most perfect display of His greatness and love and glory. It’s at the cross—where He took our sin upon Himself—where we find the secret of true godliness, true contentment, true gain.

So let’s gather around the cross in our hearts as we sing this song one more time together this morning. “My worth is not in what I own.” Our worth, our joy, our delight—it’s all found in Jesus. Ask Him to make this real for you today.

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